The CDC has found that teens are experiencing more violence, suicidal thoughts and mental health challenges

What do social media and mental health tell us about the young people who are struggling with mental health? An assessment by UCLA professor Andrew Fuligni

The UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent is led by Andrew J. Fuligni, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Taking part in activities outside of school can provide a healthy way for adolescents to explore their world. Credit: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty

The prevalence estimates for mental-health problems in young people represent less than 7% of adolescents globally. The World Health organization says one in seven of those aged 10 to 19 are currently suffering from a mental-health disorder. suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 19

More policymakers, educators, paediatricians, psychiatrists, parents, schools and other institutions should be using this pivotal window in development to influence the mental health and life trajectories of young people. Three experiences in particular seem to be key during this period.

In light of what we have all been through, and what our kids have been through, it can be very hard to get used to the idea that distress can be a sign of a teenager’s mental health. For a boy who is broken up and sad, it’s proof that he is working as he should. It is appropriate if a kid is unprepared for the test and feels anxious because it will come fast.

Social media is often blamed for this rise. Most experts acknowledge that using digital media in a way that interferes with sleep or in-person interactions and other healthy behaviours is not conducive to good mental health. However, most meta-analyses, cohort studies involving hundreds of participants, and other rigorous, well-designed studies suggest that associations between the use of digital media and mental health are relatively small and probably of little clinical significance27.

Other possible explanations are also unconvincing. Adolescents, parents or other carers being more willing to discuss issues with each other and with health-care providers, for example, might contribute to increased reports of sadness and negative mood from adolescents. The rising rates of suicidality are unlikely to be caused by this.

“Many measures were moving in the wrong direction before the pandemic. These data show the mental health crisis among young people continues,” Kathleen Ethier, director of the CDC’s division of adolescent and school health, said at a media briefing. The findings are “alarming,” she said.

The impact of volunteering, parenting and community engagement on the well-being of adolescents: a study by Mohamed Abdiwahab

Brain imaging has shown, for instance, that limbic regions important for learning and motivation are more active in youth than in adults and younger children1. (The age of participants classed as youth or adolescents can differ between studies.) Neurological scientists have shown the link between stronger connections between limbic regions and prefrontal neural networks in youth and improved performance in various cognitive skills.

A young volunteer is teaching children at a makeshift school at a camp for people displaced by famine. Credit: Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP via Getty

Experimental interventions and surveys have also shown that opportunities to contribute to others’ lives — either informally or through volunteering, youth leadership programmes and community engagement — can have multiple effects on adolescent well-being.

In a 2013 clinical trial, adolescents who spent 2 months volunteering with children aged 5–11 had lower levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 and cholesterol, and were less likely to be overweight12 compared with a control group. Body weight and inflammation have been linked to depression and other mental-health problems. In correlational work in behavioural psychology, contributing to others has been linked to adolescents having a greater sense of meaning and purpose — which can, in turn, promote better mental health, especially for youth from marginalized groups13.

Data from questionnaires, for instance, show that adolescents who have secure and supportive relationships with their parents or other carers have lower levels of depression and a stronger sense of identity than do those with insecure relationships14. Caring, affectionate and validating parenting behaviours — collectively known as positive parenting — have also been linked to the maturation of certain brain regions that are associated with the regulation of emotions, such as the amygdala15.

Many studies have shown how interventions to improve relationships in families can help to reduce the use of substances and improve mental health in youth. There are interventions that include the use of educational tools to increase parental involvement in adolescents, guidance on how to improve communication between adolescents and their carers and linking them to external support services.

Other studies, largely from behavioural psychology and education research, have shown that relationships with caring adults outside the family home can also be important in shaping the lives of young people.

Sports and other extracurricular activities can help to introduce youth to adult mentors. Studies show that formal mentoring programmes, such as those that involve a young adult in the community spending time with an adolescent, can improve the mental health of youth. Mentoring seems to be particularly important for adolescents with unstable home environments, such as those who experience homelessness or are in the foster-care system.


Global Perspectives on Mental Health in Young Adults: The Role of Sleep in Schooling, Learning, and Exploration During the Covid-19 Epidemic

Sufficient sleep is likely to be pivotal to enabling the exploration and discovery that is so important at this time of life. Regular and sufficient amounts of sleep have been shown to enhance many types of learning. Research has shown, for example, that sleep-deprived people are more likely to have lapses in attention, deficits in working memory, decreased memory encoding and compromised reinforcement learning18 than are control groups. A lack of sleep leads to an increase in the amygdala’s activity and the ability of the brain to accurately estimate the increased value of a reward.

Delays in school start times, reduced homework and family-based interventions that promote healthy sleep habits have been shown to have promise. High-school start times were delayed in the Seattle School District in Washington state, and so students slept an extra 34 minutes a night and their grades improved. Other studies have shown similar effects of later school start times24.

Studies show that sleep is important for mental health during adolescence. A link has been established between sleep problems and many of the disorders that can be found during this time.

Adolescents from high-income, predominantly Western nations are the focus of a lot of the research on youth development. Only the majority populations are usually studied by researchers. More neurosciences, psychologists and psychiatrists must study adolescents from the global south and minority groups to determine which mental-health needs can be supported worldwide.

Some concerns for contemporary youth cross national borders. In such cases, international collaborations could help to improve collective understanding.

Similar findings have emerged from global surveys. A study of 10,000 youth aged 16–25 in 10 countries showed that 80% were at least moderately worried about climate change, while 22% were very or extremely worried.

The latest data show increases in the proportion of youth who did not go to school because of safety concerns. Teen girls are more likely to suffer sexual violence and teen boys are more likely to be bullied.

The first look at the trends since the start of the Covid-19 infectious disease epidemic was offered by the responses for the CDC’s biannual youth risk behavior survey.

There is a great deal of distress among teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning.

Few measures of adolescent health and well-being showed continued improvement, including declines in risky sexual behavior, substance use and bullying at school. But most other indicators “worsened significantly,” according to the CDC report.

Do we really need to talk to our children about mental health? Teens in Mental Health, they need help, but we can’t help

Training for staff to recognize and manage mental health challenges, counseling and mentorship programs, and others are some of the tools used.

King called on Congress to act to address the youth mental health crisis, as well as the importance of having regular conversations about mental health.

“It’s critical to talk with our children about what they’re feeling and their concerns,” she said. I want our families to come together, look for signs, and look for ways that we can have these conversations with our children. Get to know them. Have these routine conversations all the time.”

Many of the challenges facing youth health and well-being are “preventable,” Houry said. There is hope that our young people’s future might be.

For many parents, the “Is it normal?” game begins early on. I’ve sent question after question to family and friends, and of course, all worried parents ask our No. 1 frenemy, Google.

my fetus isn’t moving a lot in the morning Is it normal my baby doesn’t nap? Is it normal that my 6-year-old can’t read? Is it normal that my 10-year-old has only lost four baby teeth?

While parents talk about helicopter families and their children, most are more interested in whether their child will be considered normal by experts than they are in whether they are a genius.

Damour: As much as we can appreciate theoretically that teenagers are going to get upset and have bad days, that doesn’t mean that this is easy to deal with at night when the parent is tired, and the teenager is having a meltdown. In that moment, the very expectable and well-meaning response is for the parent to want to make the stress go away and jump into advice giving and problem-solving so that the teenager doesn’t feel that way anymore. But parents discover that this doesn’t work as well as they hope it will.

CNN spoke to Damour about why we’ve become less tolerant of big feelings, how to handle them when they arise, and the ways parents can, and can’t, help.

If you can help parents differentiate between a teen in a mental health crisis which is more common, and a teen who is happy but not in crisis, you have done your job. Why is this important?

The other time we become concerned is when one emotion is calling all the shots, like when they are so anxious that their anxiety is governing all their decisions, or so sad that depression is getting in the way of their typically forward development.

There is a lot of marketing around health and well being that makes the person believe that they are only mentally healthy, if they are feeling calm, relaxed or happy. This is not an accurate definition of mental health.

One of the aims of the book is to show that mental distress is a part of mental well being and that kids grow and mature better when they experience it.

Damour: The metaphor I find that helps us listen is to imagine that you are an editor and your teenager is your reporter. It is your job to make the headline when they finish reading your article.

This exercise helps us tune in to what a teenager is saying and hear and distill what it is they are communicating. It also keeps us from trying to come up with an idea and waiting for the kids to understand so we can share it.

Teenagers often get all the support they need if you come up with a good headline. And even if you don’t, teenagers know us well and know when we are listening and giving them support without an agenda and trying to understand what they are really saying.

What helps with anyone experiencing difficulty, but especially teenagers, is to experience compassion. It’s such a generous gesture to hear someone out.

Damour: There are many other healthy ways kids regulate emotions besides talking. Listening to music with mood-matching is an adaptive way to regulate, it’s the experience of listening to it that makes the emotion out of them. Teenagers also discharge emotions physically — by going through a run, jumping on a trampoline or banging on drums. Sometimes they will discharge them through creative channels like drawing or making music.

As adults, we should not diminish the value of emotional expression that brings relief, even if it doesn’t come in the verbal form to which we are most accustomed.

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